USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Holidays’
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Nowruz

Context: I was sitting at a restaurant in West Hollywood with a good friend who is also of Persian descent, discussing our respective families plans of celebrating the Persian New Year. In the piece, my informant is identified as R.M. and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: My family is one that has assimilated more towards American culture, and does not perform all traditional rituals performed on Nowruz. However, R.M. and her family take the New Year very seriously, and plan large gatherings for the holiday every year.

 

Main Piece:

DS: “So what are you guys doing tomorrow night”

RM: “My mom is going all out as usual. We’re having like 60 people over, I have to help her set up all day tomorrow”

DS: “What do you guys even do? Jumping over the fire and all that?”

RM: “Oh yeah, there’s definitely going to be a bonfire. She bought a bunch of goldfish too, setting up that whole haft table and all.”

DS: “What else goes on the table?”

RM: “A bunch of spices, a mirror, the goldfish, some money, fruits, eggs. There’s definitely some more that I’m forgetting but you get the idea of it.”

DS: “Are you going to jump over the fire this year”

RM: “I think so, I don’t know, I always just get so nervous getting close to it every year but my parents say it’s important so I want to try it out.”

 

Analysis: Each aspect of the setting traditions of the New Year are for specific metaphorical purposes. For example, jumping over the bonfire is thought to ensure good health for the new year. The mirror is to reflect on the past year. The goldfish is to represent new life and rebirth. The money is to encourage prosperity. The eggs for fertility. Each family often celebrates and prepares differently, with each component on their table representing what they want to attract in the year to come. The Persian culture is very poetic and spiritual, so it comes as no surprise that the culture chooses certain items for these grand representations.

Customs
Gestures
Holidays
Humor
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dayenu on Passover

Context: My informant is a 63 year-old man of Persian descent. The piece is a ritual practiced by Persian Jews at traditional Passover seders, which is a generations-old gathering where specific foods are eaten to remind oneself of the hardships faced by Jews in Egypt. Each food symbolizes an aspect of the suffrage, and is consumed after reading stories and prayers from the Haggadah – the text recited at the seder.

 

Background: The morning after I had a Passover seder with my family, I decided to ask my informant about a tradition almost exclusively practiced by Persian Jews. He explained that they had practiced this tradition while still living in Iran, before they moved to Los Angeles after the fall of the Shah. It remains a staple of Passover seders at any Persian Jewish home.

 

Main Piece: “When it’s time in the seder for the green onions, we do Dayenu. This food symbolizes how we remember that the Jews were beaten and whipped as slaves in Egypt. Persian Sephardic Jews have a fun twist on this to make the seder more fun and enjoyable while also remembering these hardships. After reading the piece from the book and saying the prayer over the green onion, everyone starts singing the Dayenu song and runs around hitting each other with the onions. It’s fun and chaos, and it makes such a long traditional seder a little more lively and bearable. I’m not sure how this ritual originated, but only Sephardic Jews do it usually. It mimics what the slaves went through in Egypt but it also brings a fun and enjoyment to the holiday.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see the distinction between practices of different sectors of Jews. While Orthodox and Ashkenazi Jews take a more traditional aspect to the Passover Seder, Sephardic Jews practice this ritual to celebrate the remembrance while also bringing excitement to the tradition. There is debate about where the custom originates, but it’s typically practiced by Sephardic Jews from Iran and Afghanistan.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material

Lentils and Pork on New Year’s Eve

Context: My informant is a 22 year-old student of Italian descent. The piece describes a traditional New Year’s custom for Italians, which is thought to bring good luck and prosperity.

 

Background: My informant has practiced this custom in her family for as long as she can remember. Her family participated in this tradition while still living in Italy, and she and they all continue to practice it after having moved to Los Angeles.

 

Main Piece: “Every year the family spends New Year’s Eve together whether we’re in L.A. or visiting family in Sicily. My dad and his 4 brothers are all chefs so food is definitely a very important aspect of our daily life. On New Year’s Eve, they all prepare a big meal together and we sit down and eat with the whole family, it’s always like 40 or 50 of us. At midnight, we all come back around the table and eat lentils and pork sausage. Lentils symbolize good luck and the pork symbolizes prosperity and good fortune. Eating those foods at midnight is supposed to bring you a year filled with good luck and prosperity, so it’s really important to my dad and uncles that we all take part in it. Food in Italian culture has a lot of symbolic meaning.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to hear how important food is in so many different cultures, and the symbolic meaning it holds. In another interview, an informant explained a Peruvian custom, which requires eating lentils, also to bring good luck and prosperity.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Material

Coin in the Cake

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. She wasn’t able to go home for Easter this year, as she usually does, but she described a tradition that her family practices every year on Easter.

 

Background: She explained that this tradition normally takes place in Greek tradition on New Year’s Eve, but that her family celebrates it on Easter instead, as she and her siblings usually spend New Year’s with friends.

 

Main Piece: “So this is usually done on New Years, but we always do it on Easter since that’s one holiday Greek Orthodox people take very seriously, so we’re almost always all together as a family. We’re always separated on New Years so this is just the best time to do this tradition I guess. Basically, my mom or grandma will bake a cake, and they bake a gold coin into the cake itself. They put it in the oven, take it out, and then they cut it all up and serve it. The person who gets the piece with the coin in it is supposed to have the luckiest year out of everyone else. Essentially it’s going to be like their golden year. It kind of defeats the purpose that we do it in April of every year, but Easter also represents rebirth and whatnot so I guess it kind of works when you think about it.”

 

Analysis: It’s interesting to see how much a culture’s folklore can be taken into interpretation. The meaning remains the same, but the tradition is made flexible. I found it compelling how many different traditions there are throughout cultures to ensure a lucky or prosperous year ahead.

Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Night Before Greek Easter

Context: My informant is a 21 year-old student from New York, who recently moved to Los Angeles to attend USC. She and I were discussing her Easter traditions and whether she still celebrates her Greek Orthodox traditions despite being away from her family.

 

Background: The following ritual is deeply rooted in the Greek Orthodox tradition and takes place the night before Easter Sunday. My informant can’t place the exact root of this ritual, but it’s likely to have been performed since biblical times.

 

Main Piece: “In Greek Orthodox tradition we follow the biblical Jewish calendar, so pretty often Greek Easter doesn’t fall on the same day as American Easter. Like this year it’s the week after American Easter. The night before Easter, we go to church at around 11pm, and we wear all black to mourn Jesus’ murder. We go the night before because it’s the night before Jesus’ resurrection. Everyone lights a candle, and we say a few prayers. Then at midnight everyone starts walking around the church chanting christos anesti, which means Christ has risen. Since coming to school, it’s hard to go back home to celebrate with my family, so my parents make me go to a Greek Orthodox church in Downtown L.A. This is the biggest holiday in Greek Orthodox tradition, so it’s really important to them and honestly for myself that I keep it up even while being away from home.”

 

Analysis: It was interesting to learn that Greek Orthodox culture follows the old Jewish calendar. As a Jew I follow the same calendar in regards to holidays, the New Year, and so on. But I wasn’t aware that other cultures still follow this historical timeline as well.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Re-entry into a Home: Indian Folk Belief

Text:

MM: “See when we return home after a long time, then it is supposed to be pretty auspicious that in front of the main door of the house someone pour oil on like both sides of the door – before you like enter the house.”

MS: “Is it usually when the person is already at the door, or before they show up?”

MM: “No like when you show up, you have to wait at the door, and then someone pours the oil and then you’re allowed to enter.”

MS: “Was there ever a time this ritual was done differently?”

MM: “Yeah there was this one time when we showed up somewhere and they had already put the oil on the doorstep and the door wasn’t even open yet and it was supposed to be like a super bad omen. Like you’re supposed to do it the right way, after the people show up, not before.”

MM: “My grandparents believe in this pretty ardently and some people from my parents’ generation do as well, but we kids like definitely don’t see the point and I don’t think I’d like continue to do it if it were just me.”

 

Context:

The informant is a college student from India, currently doing a study abroad program in America. The conversation was in response to my question about any odd things that happened in the informant’s past that she did not agree with but had to partake in anyway. The informant is also bilingual so the conversation happened in a mix of English and Hindi. I have translated the relevant Hindi parts to English as per my own interpretation and in an attempt to retain the meaning as best as possible. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

The informant does not really understand the reasons behind the ritual herself, and is adamant in not taking part in it, but she still acknowledges the proper way to do it and the consequences of messing up even the order in which the actions must take place. I think this ritual developed because there was a time when people would often go away for long periods of time and the lack of communication abilities would imply that there was no way of knowing if and when they would be coming back. Further, there was implicitly more of a risk in travel earlier than it is now. The ritual seems to be a response of gratitude for a safe return as well as a prayer that even return be as safe and sound as this one.

Game

Hitori Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek Alone

The informant is marked IN.

IN: It’s kind of like a cult game, like in the same genre of the Ouija board, but like different…. And it’s called, like, Hitori Kakurenbo – Hide and Seek Alone. And it’s like, this elaborate ritual where you invite this ghost to come play hide and seek with you. And to do so you need to do like all this crazy shit. Like you need to get this doll, take all the stuffing out, and then you need to stuff it with rice, and they you need to put, like, a .. you need to put like blood, or a fingernail, or like a hair trimming into the doll. Like connect it with your spirit. And then you, what is it you have to like drown it in a bathtub and tie it with a string? Which are all elements of like, there’s some in Japanese folklore culture I believe. I know the rice has something to do with life, which makes sense cause it’s like, a carb. And i have read online that people did it and nothing worked. But then others say they did it and like, the TVs were changing. Apparently a korean version called living  doll, where like you take a doll – and I forgot to mention that in the original, Hitori Kakurenbo, it’s important that you get this stuffed animal that doesn’t look human-like. Because if you get one that looks human it has more power or something like that, which i guess kind of makes sense, like I don’t know? But living doll, you get a real ass doll, and then you invite it to like come, I don’t know, turn your lights off or eat you or something. And apparently people are like scared at shit that happened.

Context: I met the informant for lunch and she brought up an old game she heard about from her friend.

Background: The informant is a second year student at USC who is Korean-American. She heard about this game from a friend in Saint Louis, where she grew up. She believes her friend read about this game online on a website, likely Reddit.

Analysis: This was intriguing to me because it’s like a very ritualistic version of Ouija, calling out a spirit but adding in a physical voodoo-esque doll. It’s also interesting that people out there are willing to try this out in hopes of meeting or playing with a ghost.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Presents in Shoes During Christmas

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College.This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening. The informant and I were alone in a private space, and, out of her collection of folklore, this is one that she chose to share with me. In this account, she is describing a tradition that she experienced when she celebrated Christmas in Mexico with her family when she was a young girl. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Um, ok, so, the folklore that I am talking about is, ummm, connected to most of my extended family. Um, most of my extended family on the one side of my family still lives in Guadalajara, which is a state in Mexico. And although I don’t go down as much as I used to, one time when I was about eight years old we were there around Christmas and one sort of tradition that they have in Mexico that is pretty common is that instead of using stocking—the way that a lot of, um, American households use to hold presents—they instead use shoes. So if you, um, put your shoes or your boots in front of the fireplace, then the next morning that’s kind-of where your Christmas gifts and presents will be.

K: When exactly, like, did this happen?… Like what year?

E: Ummm, I think the year… Ok, so I was in 4th grade, which means I was ten, which means it was ten years ago, which means it was 2009. Actually I think it was 2008, let’s do 2008.

K: Have you like heard of this tradition outside of your family?

E: Yes, because it’s like pretty commonly done… I think it’s not only in Mexico, though, like I’m pretty sure people do it in Europe, too? I just don’t know that it’s like… Or I haven’t heard about it as widely like in the U.S.

K: Um, can you just set up the context of when this would happen? I know you said it was during Christmas, but can you be more specific?

E: Um, ok, so kind of like the idea is that… like… on any Christmas morning, instead of like kind of the more conventional U.S. version of kind of waking up to like stockings with presents in them, it’s like boots or shoes with like smaller presents in them. But it’s kind of like akin either way.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that the concept of putting Christmas presents in shoes was quite intriguing, and I wondered if there was a legend, myth, or tale that created this tradition of putting presents in shoes. Though my informant never mentioned a reason why this became a tradition in her family, she did mention that she knew that it was not just something that occurred in Mexico, but in Europe, as well. I did some investigating and found that in the days leading up to December 6, which is St. Nicholas’s feast day,  children in Europe put their shoes or a special St. Nicholas boot out in front of the fireplace at night to find them filled with presents the next morning. Some differences between this tradition and my informant’s experience is that my informant put her shoes out on Christmas Eve day rather than in the many days leading up to Christmas, and also the mere fact that she celebrated this in Mexico rather than in a European country. Perhaps the reason there is such deviation between the way it is traditionally celebrated from the way my informant celebrates it is because Mexico is so far from the origin of the tradition,  which allowed for the tradition to take its own form and adjust to its new culture (as folklore should).

 

Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Canadian Thanksgiving

Background: This informant is a young-adult Canadian student studying at USC. The informant describes a Canadian holiday that is similar to an American one, with different origins. This is a transcription of our conversation (the informant is labeled as “H” and I am labeled as “Me”):

Piece:

Me: Do you have any other holidays in Canada, other than like Independence Day?

H: We have Canadian Thanksgiving actually. I mean it’s not about like pilgrims or anything but it’s similar to Thanksgiving here [in the US]. It’s about being thankful and spending time with family and friends.

Me: How do you celebrate it?

H: We have Turkey and stuff and have a big meal.

Me: Is it in November too?

H: No it’s like the second week of October, on a Monday- I think.

Context: This conversation occurred during an evening dance rehearsal during a brief break. I approached the informant as I knew she grew up outside of the US to see if I could gain some more international folklore.

Thoughts: I had no idea that Canada celebrated Thanksgiving too. When the informant told me about this holiday, I researched it to find out more information and found that the first Canadian Thanksgiving occurred before the original US Thanksgiving. While the holiday began to be celebrated later on in the 19th century, it’s a separate entity from the US holiday and represents Canadian pride and family. I think this holiday helps to demonstrate the value of the nuclear family in both Canadian and United States culture. Both cultures have allotted days to return home to family and miss work to focus on spending time with loved ones.

For more information on Canadian Thanksgiving, here is an article by Olivia B. Waxman originally published in October 2017 entitled “The Surprising Reason Canadian Thanksgiving Is Different From The US Version” (Time Magazine):

http://time.com/4971309/canadian-thanksgiving-2017-history/

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Healing Charm

sana sana colita de rana si no sanas hoy sanaras mañana por la mañana”

Translation: “heal heal, little frog’s butt, if you don’t heal today you will heal tomorrow”

Context: Informant and I were talking about childhood memories and she shared this healing charm her mom would do on her.

Background: Informant is a student at the UCI. She lives in a Mexican American household. She recalls this charm that her mom would do whenever she would hurt herself by falling while playing. She would run to her mom crying and her mom would say it and rub her “boo boo” in a circular motion. She doesn’t think it took the pain away but it made me feel better. When asked if she would do this with her kids, she nodded enthusiastically.

Analysis: This charm was performed on little kids as a way to acknowledge their pain but also help make them feel better. When a child goes crying to his/her mom, she can give him/her the attention that is needed and they can go back to playing. When translated it does not have the same rhyme and effect attached. It does not really make any sense, but in Spanish it does not sound so bad.

[geolocation]